Eric Cheng

View Original

Number of men who will die in 2008

This image has been sent to me so many times that I thought I'd finally post it (presumably sent to me because it includes a "shark attack" item). I'm told that there are an average of five reported fatalities by shark attack each year, worldwide. This year, I believe there have been four high-profile, shark-related deaths so far. We're ahead of schedule, it seems.

People throw around stats all the time, like "you're more likely to be killed by XXX than by a shark." I have to say that I'm occasionally guilty of this, but I try to make informed comparisons. Most often, I cringe when someone throws out a comparison like this because most statistics quoted by shark lovers do not take into account the number of people who are exposed to the agent of death. For example, falling coconuts kill more people than do sharks, as do vending machines. But the number of people exposed to coconut trees and vending machines probably far outnumber those exposed to sharks. I'm more interested in relative risk.

The Florida Museum of Natural History hosts the International Shark Attack File, which has interesting, fact-based write-ups of sharks attacks worldwide. Some of them take into account exposure risk, but most of them use absolute numbers in their statistics. Here are a few good pages to start with:

  1. The Relative Risk of Shark Attacks to Humans
  2. Summary of shark attacks in 2003
  3. Statistics of beach injuries and fatalities in the USA in 2000

I've pulled out some interesting statistics:

Coastal States, USA: 1959-2007 Avg Number of Lightning Fatalities per year: 39.7* Avg Number of Shark Attacks: 18.4 Avg Number of Shark Fatalities: 0.5

The lightning study doesn't include any non-coastal states, but it still includes a lot of people who do not have any exposure to sharks. It's a start.

Here's a study of sharks vs. other animals:

Average Number of Fatalities Per Year by Animal, USA Deer (Vehicular Collisions) 130 Dogs 18 Snakes 15 Mountain Lions 0.6 Sharks 0.4

Just as many people are never exposed to sharks, many people are never exposed to mountain lions. It's an imperfect study, but it still shows that you should probably be more afraid of most other animals.

Year 2000 USA Beach Injuries and Fatalities

Drowning and other beach-related fatalites 1 in 2 million Drowning fatalites 1 in 3.5 million Shark attacks 1 in 11.5 million Shark attack fatalites 0 in 264.1 million

This one is better because it takes into account the number of people who actually go to the beach. Presumably, those people are the same ones who have a chance of being nailed by a shark. Not everyone goes into the water (and therefore, are not exposed to sharks), but at the same time, divers and people on boats (who are exposed to sharks) are probably not accounted for either.

Finally, be sure to watch out for sand holes. I hear they're really vicious.